Editorial : Real work for planners
The nonsensical stumble in the process of modifying a Martha's Vineyard Commission approval of the Field Club development in Katama brings to light a peculiar Island irony. There is a pronounced trend among us in favor of the organic and natural rather than the synthetic, in what we eat and wear and how, in broad terms, we elect to light and shelter and transport ourselves - really, how we live our lives. But, as we contemplate our community's life, we have eschewed organic and natural and instead embraced inorganic and unnaturally imposed change.
The metastasis of districts of critical planning concern, so that hardly a square inch of the Island has escaped the overlapping oppression of Martha's Vineyard Commission regulation, together with the perversion and extension of the Martha's Vineyard Commission's developments of regional impact regimen means that what happens next will not be what evolves over time, but rather what a few of us today determine should be the pattern of change over the next 50 years.
Of course, it's presumptuous for an editorial writer to tell people what's wrong with this and right with that. But, the editorial writer has no authority, very few readers pay attention, fewer still leap to do what the editorial demands, and it's a good bet that nothing will come of it. Not so with planners, otherwise known as the few, the intrusive, and the omniscient.
As presumptuous as editorial writers are, they are trailing badly behind planners in the presumption stakes. The old, now defunct, USSR fancied 10- and 15-year plans, but they forgot to plan for what would happen when their entire country disintegrated, as it did in the 1980s. On shelves across the Vineyard, there are volumes of town master plans and Island master plans that took years to assemble and looked years into the future, but none could forecast when someone would actually haul down a copy of one of those multi-volume, self-referential extravaganzas, to help decide what should happen next. It doesn't happen. And, thank goodness for that. Still, we're at it again.
Rather than planning for the Vineyard 50 years hence or perseverating windily over developments such as the Field Club, which will have no notable, identifiable regional impacts, the Martha's Vineyard Commission would do better to trim its triggers for developments of regional impact to a few with real, predictable Island-wide effects. That way, the Martha's Vineyard Commission would have more time for planning work on problems, whose resolution might make possible whatever good change the future holds in store.
No need for task forces, heavily inclined toward narrow views on issues such as growth, housing, and nutty economics. Elected town planning boards could help. Thoughtful year-round and seasonal Islanders would help, especially if they have historical perspective and broad experience of the several communities that are Martha's Vineyard, as well as considerable experience of the world beyond. Their views might be gathered by trained interviewers using extensive, carefully constructed questionnaires. A similar instrument might be employed in scientific polling of the year-round and summer resident communities. Professional community planning consultants could help, particularly if they were asked to focus on infrastructure issues, as they might develop in a community that will certainly grow denser, more congested, and more expensive.
The focus should be on problems whose dimensions have already been revealed and whose implications for the reasonably near future are worrisome. For example, we need more bike paths. Where? How can we finance them? We need more parking in the three down-Island towns, because the beating heart of the three large towns are their business centers. Park and ride is a clumsy, unappealing hurdle in everyday life, and public transport is a great help but not a solution. Can we incinerate our non-recyclable, non-compostable rubbish, before we go broke taking it all by truck to the mainland 30 miles away, where it is incinerated? We ought to expand sewering, whose expense is considerable and growing, but whose advantages, with careful design and management, are indisputable? How can we do that? Let's reclaim junk woodlands that once were fields and meadows, perhaps diminishing the amount of cover for deer and striking a blow at the ticks. Let's rezone for small lots, condos, and apartments in selected areas, to make Vineyard home ownership and residency more varied and affordable, and, at least in large part, financed privately. And, new roads to ease congested arteries and bypass town centers. We've needed those for twenty years.
And, what about the planning problem that is at the heart of every other planning problem? The Martha's Vineyard Commission could set aside everything else it is doing and do every Islander a favor by studying the future of transportation to and from the mainland. The work cannot be left to the Steamship Authority, which has proven itself unfit for and uninterested in the task. It's a subject of premier importance to Islanders. The Vineyard should do the future transportation planning for itself, rather than let the SSA do it - or fail to do it - for itself.
Rather than pretending that an expensive development in Edgartown is a development with regional impact, when its advantages and impacts will affect only Edgartown, we should consider, for example, what happens to Ralph Packer's tank farm and transfer bridge when the time for a change comes? Can we live without it? Would a marina be a suitable replacement? Or a park? Someone will suggest a park, you may be sure. Can we shift everything that Packer Towing brings to the Vineyard to SSA vessels instead? And, what will that cost? And, what about emergencies? Should we protect and preserve that tank farm and transfer bridge, as indispensable parts of the community's infrastructure?
And, what about helping the six towns discover if there are municipal functions that can be merged in the interest of efficiency and economy? Some planning that defined such opportunities as may exist and described the discreet functions the towns ought to hang on to would be a help.
There is planning work to be done, but the Field Clubs and the overlapping energy districts of critical planning concern do little more than tragically divert the planners from what should be their mission.